Failure to Thrive - Part II
Lucius was aware of glares and disapproving looks cast his way, but kept his composure. He was exceedingly grateful to be standing here, a free wizard, rather than rotting in Azkaban. He was so practiced at schooling all emotion other than arrogance and smugness out of his expression, he was uncertain what he was actually displaying of his inner self at this moment.
Publicly, it was no secret that Lucius was going out of his way to prove he had privately relinquished his support for Voldemort long ago, and was quite relieved to have him gone. He readily admitted he had been trapped in circumstances created by his own pompous desire for stature and power. It had come back to rip the arrogance right out of him, shaming him to the core. He had made his appearance, as had Draco and Narcissa, before the Wizengamut mere days after the Final Battle, and had spoken these exact sentiments in complete honesty. And he had admitted that it had taken the more recent atrocities accompanying the Dark Lord’s resurrection to finally get through to him. It had been the judgement of the court that he would be of better service on probation, retaining his freedom on the condition that he pay significant fines and rid himself, and his life, of dark arts. Outside of that arena, he had yet to be challenged to his face on his claims, but he was under no illusions that many believed he should have been imprisoned.
Those final moments, when young Harry Potter had taken matters into his own hands and faced the Dark Lord alone, had been the actual turning point for both Lucius and Narcissa. The boy's sentiments, as reported in the Prophet, had further endeared Harry to them both. They'd had a metaphorical mirror held up to them, and what they'd seen of their own reflections compared to what they'd just watched a seventeen year old boy take upon himself, had stripped the very foundation of their individual identities away. In these past thirty days, the Malfoy family had experienced life without any trappings beyond their own guilt and regret. Though they now had far less in a material sense, they'd grown closer, thankfully, though Lucius was still terrified he'd failed his son too deeply to ever have his respect again. They'd pledged to make restitution in any form they could manage as they started over as a family, with new perspective on what truly mattered in life.
Lucius watched in mild alarm as the memorial was concluding and the audience expected to hear from the Vanquisher of Evil, Harry Potter himself. All eyes and ears waited attentively for Harry to come forward to address them. It was to be his first public address and many had come today with hopes of having a quick word, or even an opportunity to send him a grateful look. But the object of their affection was in his own world, and it seemed to Lucius to be a bitter and dark one. Harry was seated in a slump on the stage, staring moodily into space, completely disinterested and unengaged in the service. When Hermione Granger glanced Harry's way as if to ask if he wanted to say a few words, the sullen teen simply closed his eyes and averted his face. The young witch stepped forward.
"Good afternoon," she said shakily. "It's been a long month, hasn't it? Probably the longest I can personally remember." She cleared her throat and scanned the crowd, making eye contact with everyone she could while she continued, "I think what's most important for each of us, in this new era we are beginning to build together, is to remember that it was fear that drove us as a society into the darkness we have suffered under these past years. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what is different. Not trusting that there may be something wonderful to discover beyond our own comfort zones. I think it's important to keep this in mind in the future, whenever the desire to judge or disrespect someone arises. We are all relieved today to be alive and free, are we not? We will only stay that way if we forgive as much as we can, and if we try to open our hearts and minds to the differences between us. I've never questioned my desire to be a part of the wizarding world, and I, for one, intend to do what I can to hold onto this Light that we now have. I hope everyone here believes they can do the same, each in his own way. Thank you."
A loud applause rewarded her disclosure, and it was clear that her words were well received.
As the service ended, the audience and presenters broke into small groups to exchange greetings and condolences. Many disappointed faces followed Harry Potter as he made his way around to the back side of the castle out of view of any of the other guests. Lucius also followed, in long purposeful strides that were soundless as he covered the distance between them. He heard snippets of dialogue in his wake. Many of those who had known Harry for a long time were now commenting on how young and small he looked up close.
Hadn't he been taller in sixth year?
He barely looks older than he did at the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Why would he do that to himself?
I know he was bigger than this when I saw him on the grounds during the battle!
Harry had entered an old garden rarely used, even when school was in session. In a few swift steps, Lucius was beside him, taking a firm hold of the boy's upper arm and halting them both. And yes, the boy's small stature and young face was both disconcerting and distracting. The question was, did Harry feel as young as he looked?
But first things first.
"You behaved very poorly just now, young man," Lucius said sternly, as Harry was turning toward him in surprise.
Harry’s dull expression shifted, his eyes widening slightly as he met the reproachful glare of an adult for whose authority he normally felt zero regard. But Harry was dramatically off kilter these days, and though he had more familiarity with the flawed examples of humanity than most, being pulled aside by Lucius Malfoy for being inconsiderate was just shocking enough to give him pause. Current day ethics were being redefined by the moment, and Harry had no idea where he himself stood with any of it. The fact that this well-educated, and extremely powerful wizard was finding fault with his behavior was enough to make Harry question himself, regardless of the horrible - horrible - indiscretions the man had demonstrated in the past. Harry blinked and tried to control the anxious breathing that tightened his chest, and stumbled along while Lucius led him further out of sight of those still gathered on the grass in front of the main entrance. When the older wizard stopped and turned him so that they faced each other, Harry stared up at him dumbly, not knowing what to expect. Reading something in the stern glare of the man who had a firm grip on his arm, he felt as if he was in trouble; not danger, but trouble. He flashed back to their encounter in Diagon Alley, where though he had been guarded, he’d found himself engaged in civil conversation with the elder Malfoy for a short time. It was then that Lucius had hinted that he wished to be of help to Harry if he needed anything, especially in the realm of facing adulthood so suddenly. The words had stuck with Harry all of this time, but he’d not known what Malfoy could possibly imagine he could offer. It occurred to Harry now that Lucius may have been offering parental guidance. He realized he was supposed to respond, to explain himself, but his throat had constricted and he was breaking into a sweat. Say something! he ranted frantically to himself. Who cares what he thinks! He’s one to talk! But Harry continued to struggle within while he stared back at the elder Malfoy, unable to summon enough of his old vitriolic hatred to lace into a snide response.
Perhaps that was because Lucius Malfoy was indeed a changed wizard these days, quite visibly humbled. His attire was scaled back to a tasteful simplicity, his hair no longer platinum but dishwater blond. Now it fell to just below his shoulders, subtly tamed, but natural in appearance. He no longer strolled arrogantly around with the platinum handled wand holster, having lost his last wand to Voldemort. His new wand was kept in his sleeve and rarely seen in public. Today, at first impression, a stranger would see Lucius was an attractive wizard with a reserved nature. He still did not smile often, but now it was because of his inner turmoil, rather than because his hate-filled heart couldn't be bothered with such trivialities as happiness.
Yet to Harry, Lucius was still in a position of authority, simply because he naturally commanded it.
And to Lucius, the boy's demons were visibly claiming him and he needed to be steered onto a better track. “I’m waiting for a response,” he prompted.
Harry grasped for an indifferent tone, and finally responded lamely, "What's it to you?"
"You've embarrassed yourself, and disrespected a large number of people who came here today to take comfort in the shared burden we all bear from the war."
Now indignant rage set in. “I’ve disrespected-" Harry started to shout, but Lucius silenced him by speaking over him.
"This is a new time, Harry," Lucius said sternly, knowing full well Harry wanted to call him out on his hypocrisy. "I know I have much to atone for. That is not in question." He released Harry's arm and the boy stepped back. "You blatantly disregarded the heartache of a throng of people who rightly or wrongly consider you a hero. You did vanquish the Dark Lord, young man. I know you are wounded and suffering tremendous pain, but that does not justify your horrid behavior just now."
And at that, Harry Potter burst into anguished tears.
Lucius was both shocked and alarmed at the intensity of the boy's emotion. He waited to see if the teen would pull himself together, but Harry was so overcome with wracking sobs that he was struggling to take in a breath. Truly wanting to comfort the boy, but not certain that Harry would allow an embrace, Lucius still hesitated. Harry stood before him, head bowed, hands over his face, shoulders shaking. Lucius finally reached his hand out to cup around the back of Harry's head and slowly pulled the weeping boy to him, guiding his head until it was pressed against his chest.
"You must feel terribly alone," Lucius said gruffly. "But you are not. You are deeply cared for by very loyal friends, Harry. And I care very much about how you are feeling and whether you are looking after yourself." He carded his fingers through the boy's hair. Harry's entire body trembled and his breaths hitched in his chest. Finally, Lucius enfolded Harry in a tight embrace and held him while he spoke, "It is completely understandable that you would be struggling, Harry. Do you not think we should begin a dialog? Merlin knows that between you and I alone there is much to resolve…" Now the older man faltered. This brave boy's vulnerability was crushing his heart, but Lucius himself was not well versed in working through shame and distress. He could only follow his instincts. "I should appreciate it very much if you would come and spend some time with us at the manor. We all have much to recover from, Harry. We Malfoys are under no illusions about our own contributions to all that went wrong. We made stupid, self-centered and self-serving choices. But be certain of this: we too have paid dearly for them, and now truly, truly want to atone." He cleared his throat to loosen his tightened voice. "Let me look after you, Harry. Narcissa and I both wish to."
The only response he received was Harry's body relaxing into his embrace. Lucius tightened his arms again. "Tell me child, what is the hardest thing for you to bear right now?"
That surprised Lucius. "Severus?" he asked, not pleased that his voice cracked and he had to swallow down a rush of grief for his own loss of his longtime friend. When the boy nodded into his shoulder, he pushed further, "Do you miss him, Harry?"
"It's not as though we were close," Harry managed to sound derisive even with a broken voice. "But he shouldn't have died. He didn't deserve it. I was so hateful towards him right up to the end. I watched Nagini kill him and it was terrible, but I didn't feel sad until I saw his memories and saw how much he'd sacrificed. And lost." Harry was in better control of his emotions now, but he sounded very deflated. "He didn't even get a proper burial."
"But you've done more than your share to put an end to any question as to where his loyalties lied." Lucius said firmly. "The man has been publicly, if only postmortem, exonerated from all crimes, thanks to you."
The boy pulled away then, mopping his face self consciously and putting some space between them. He seemed better, definitely better than he'd been at the ceremony.
"Did you know that Snape was a spy?" Harry asked.
"I suspected it, but never spoke of it," Lucius explained easily, glad he could openly share this. "Severus was my only real friend other than my wife, and I wanted what was best for him. We were not safe to speak our minds at any time, so I kept my suspicions to myself, hoping that in return he could help Draco survive."
"But Draco wanted fame and glory," Harry filled in. "If he and I had ever been able to be friends, I would have warned him that it wasn't worth it..." the boy's voice tapered off and he shook his head.
"And?" Lucius prompted.
"Draco was a bully," Harry said sharply, his eyes holding Lucius' and there was no doubt about the suffering behind his words. "He taunted me ruthlessly, always knowing just what to say to set me off, and between him and Snape, it was all I could do to keep my wand in my pocket and my mouth shut. And I failed at that plenty of times." He looked away from Lucius then. "I cast a terrible spell at Draco, not knowing how awful it was. I could have killed him. I tried to apologize for it, but he wouldn't hear it. I don't blame him."
"It's all in the past, Harry. We can accept responsibility for those actions now. I think we could get past them if we considered our interpretation of the circumstances of the time. We Malfoys made a lot of poor choices."
"So did the Potters," Harry said softly, seeming to be lost in thought.
"Father?" Draco's voice interrupted them and both turned toward the approaching footsteps. When Draco saw Harry, he stopped short. "Oh, my apologies, Potter, I didn't mean to interrupt."
Harry wiped his eyes again, replacing his glasses as he muttered, "S'okay, Draco. Your dad was just setting me straight on a few things."
Lucius raised a surprised eyebrow and Harry shot him a pained grimace of defeat, clearly knowing there was no point in pretending he hadn't been crying.
Draco smirked, but with a kinder manner than he'd ever shown Harry in the past. "Been there, Potter." He stared at the dark haired teen for a long moment, saying nothing about his appearance, nor the new moisture gathering in Harry's eyes. "How are you these days, Harry?" he asked.
"Not great," Harry said quietly, eyes averted again.
"Maybe we could try to talk things out sometime," Draco offered softly. "When you feel up to it?"
Harry's eyes darted up to meet Draco's. His voice wavered and then broke as he said, "I've got a lot on my mind right now."
"I don't doubt it," Draco said. He was losing his nerve, but he'd promised both parents to do what he must to be a better wizard. "Sounds like you might just need a place to go sometimes to get away from the day to day bothers."
"What are you suggesting?" Harry asked, and swiped again at his tearful eyes.
"Come have dinner at the manor, Harry," Lucius interjected. "Tonight. See if you can be comfortable there. If you can, you are welcome any time."
"Why?" Harry asked again.
"Because it's hard to be on your own all of the time, isn't it?"
"Horrible things happened at your manor, Mr. Malfoy," Harry said tensely. "To me and to my friends, and I saw a lot of others suffer there through my link to Voldemort."
Lucius could not hide his shock. "You witnessed our activities?"
"Yeah. My scar was a horcrux. I had what I thought were visions, but it was a far deeper connection to that bastard. Snape tried to teach me to Occlude, but I only finally sort of learned to after he killed-" Harry caught himself hastily and cleared his throat, looking painfully back and forth between the blond father and son, who had similar expressions of regret and clenched jaws. "I saw a lot, and because I was in Voldemort's head, I felt his glee, and rage, and hate."
"That is …difficult to hear," Lucius ground out shamefully, he held Harry’s dark glower for as long as he could. "You should not have seen any of that!"
"There was no way to stop it." Harry said brokenly and swiped at his eyes again. "He was too powerful. And if I told anybody about it, I might have given myself away to him. Not to mention the danger I was already putting Snape in just by him knowing."
"We knew that there was some kind of connection between you and Voldemort," Lucius admitted, his remorse visible to Harry. "And knew that he'd used it to lure you to the Ministry for the prophecy, but had no idea of the breadth of what you could see."
"Merlin," Draco whispered. "I didn't know, Potter. I swear I didn't know." Again Harry nodded, but could say nothing more.
They stood there silently while each contemplated the odd circumstances of this moment. Lucius struggled to control a rather forceful surge of regret that could easily leave him in a weeping, sopping heap if he gave in to it. Draco realized he had a real opportunity to extend an olive branch to Harry Potter. Harry marveled that he had been hugged by Lucius Malfoy, and that he felt certain the man's regret was genuine.
Finally, Draco spoke again. "Harry, the manor is not what you remember. We've been heavily fined by the Ministry. We've sold most of the furniture, and gutted out all of the dark artifacts. It's actually quite… different now. Quite tranquil. You should come for dinner. We've been dining outside on the grass these last few weeks. It's been... nice."
"I don't think I'd be very good company."
"Nonsense," Lucius said, determined to win Harry over now. "You will see. It will be a good change of scene for you." He watched the teen wipe his eyes for the umpteenth time.
"Alright," Harry agreed.
"Good lad," Lucius praised. "Draco, let's find your mother and return home with our guest."